Thursday, November 29, 2007


Sometimes, life just doesn't seem fair.

Tonight, the two best teams in the NFC will square off as the Green Bay Packers head south to play the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams are led by quarterbacks who are having Pro Bowl seasons, with young talent Tony Romo lighting it up in Big D and aging football icon Brett Favre still doing what he does best. One of these two teams will be playing in the Super Bowl...where they will lose big to the New England Patriots. It's a great night for football in America!

Unfortunately, most of us will be unable to see this important game. The event is being televised on the new "NFL Network", which is not carried by many cable outlets. In my area, Comcast doesn't offer this channel, so I am just out lof luck. My brother and I are exploring the sports bar possibilities in the area.

If I want to watch this game, then I've got to think clearly, act quickly, and adapt to my current situation.

While I'm stewing and exploring, I'm also aware that this Sunday begins a new Church year, and the lectionary cycle begins anew, focusing on the Gospel of Matthew. This Gospel is a tour de force of Old Testament quotes, reinterpreted by the Gospel writer (and the early Church) in reference to Jesus. The Gospel writer thus was able to take another look at the situation and make changes in order to accomplish a goal.

For example, what had been a prophecy for King Ahaz, reaffirming God's presence in his life and in the life of Israel (see Isaiah 7) was adapted to refer to Jesus, who was and is God incarnate in human flesh. Even God, it seems, was willing to adapt in order to accomplish his goals.

Actually, in football terms, this is what has made the legend of Brett Favre. He is a quarterback who has refused to simply work the play which is called, and instead is willing to scramble, look, and adapt in the hopes of keeping a doomed play alive. Yes, he has the all-time record for most interceptions thrown because of the way he plays the game, but he also has had tremendous success, has thrown for more touchdowns than any other quarterback in history, has a Super Bowl ring, and is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

So, how am I adapting? It's a postmodern world out there, and in many ways, I am very old-fashioned. In other ways, I suppose I'm pretty current. How do I balance who God has made me to be with the needs of my life and ministry?

How do I adapt to a world that doesn't understand "atonement" and "crucifixion" and "incarnation" and "resurrection"? Certainly, Scripture, liturgy, and the symbols of the Church can communicate in powerful ways; how do I use them most effectively?

I suppose I'm adapting tonight by watching the game in a bar ("Another Shirley Temple, please."). Maybe, just maybe, I'll learn a thing or two about continuing to adapt and, if I can say this without offending my more fundamentalist-minded brethren, maybe I can evolve, just a little bit.

Hey, it's Advent-Christmas time...the season of miracles!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christ the King Sunday 2007

"All hail the power of Jesus' name! Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem
*, and crown him Lord of all!"
- Edward Perronet, 1779

Many of us - most of us - have a secret desire to be like God. It's what got Adam and Eve into trouble. We want to "be our own boss", control our own fate, be master or mistress of our own destiny, "call our own shots".

But there is another aspect of "being God" that we may want to avoid. The same God who created the universe and remains sovereign over everything and everyone also became one with the very "stuff" of his creation, "emptying himself" of glory, and became humble even to the point of horrific suffering and a torturous death on a cross. God - this man Jesus - sacrificed not only his glory but himself, in order to reconcile creation to its Creator.

Let all who would follow him have the same servant's heart, the same willingness to sacrifice. Let us crown and serve a true King - one who teaches us humility and mercy, and the true meaning of power and majesty.

"O that with yonder sacred throng we at his feet may fall!
We'll join the everlasting song, and crown him Lord of all!"
- Edward Perronet, 1779

* = "Diadem" is an ancient poetic word for "crown".

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving 2007

I really like the hymnody of Thanksgiving. Songs like "We Gather Together" and "Now Thank We All Our God" are wonderful, powerful in worship and effective in devotions.

But my favorite hymn associated with Thanksgiving is without a doubt "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come", which is #694 in The United Methodist Hymnal. The text was written in 1844 by Henry Alford, an Anglican Greek scholar. The text makes reference to Jesus' parables of the sower and the wheat & weeds in Matthew 13, and also brings to mind Matthew 9:37-38, which records Jesus' words as, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (RSV)

The text is set to a hauntingly majestic 1858 tune by George Elvey, who served as the organist of St. George's Chapel in Windsor for many years. It is a perfect marriage of text and tune.

I truly hope that all of my sisters and brothers and friends have a blessed holiday; Brett Favre and his Green Bay Packers play at 12:30 PM!

"Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

the world is God's own field, fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown

are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,

then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we

wholesome grain and pure may be.

"For the Lord our God shall come,

and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day

all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.

"Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified, in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home!"

- Henry Alford, 1844

Monday, November 19, 2007

Stewardship & the Tithe

Here's one to use during your next stewardship campaign...

Thanks to The Church You Know.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Olmsted Manor & Probation

I returned today from a pastor's retreat at Olmsted Manor, a beautiful facility in a remote outpost known as "Kane District". At the invitation of Jeff Vanderhoff, who is the director of the probationer's program in our Conference (astoundingly, considering his antics during our own probationary years - setting off mini-bombs in the Conference Center and such), and given the unavailability of #1 draft pick Eric Park (who has led this event in the past), I was the facilitator of a retreat entitled "Life Altar-ing Experiences". The retreat focused on the theology and practice of worship, liturgy, and sacraments.

Four observations...

1) I found this group of new probationers (all commissioned in June 2007) to be very impressive. They seemed theologically sound, wise, and eager to do ministry. That's encouraging.

2) Several members of the class are as much as ten years younger than I am. While I certainly don't want to discount the gifts of those who are older than my 36 years (several of whom seem to be outstanding pastors, with whom I could trust my family), it was refreshing to see first hand that our Conference is, in fact, raising up young leaders of the new emerging generations. It was particularly nice to spend some time with Seth McPherson, who is serving in Johnstown District. When Seth was a youth at Brookville: Evangelical UMC, we attended several retreats together at Wesley Woods, as I was an adult youth leader at Indiana: Trinity UMC. It's great to see him "grown up", so committed to the Lord, and doing good things for the Kingdom.

3) I could not help but laugh during my stay at Olmsted. Not too long ago, my own probationer class gathered twice a year in the lovely forest setting to hear the latest propaganda speaker the Conference sent our way. I felt that in many ways our class was extremely subversive, and at times, probably, needlessly disrespectful toward our well-meaning facilitators, several of whom left Olmsted scratching their heads and seriously concerned about the future of the Church. Now, most of our class is involved in some form of Conference leadership (have we sold out? are we too "respectable"?), and here I was in a role we lambasted a few years ago. My, oh, my. God's dark sense of humor is always surprising.

4) I found myself missing my old probationer class. We were (and remain) very different people, with very different styles and ministry tastes, yet we shared a passion for Jesus and for ministry, and grew very close as Christian brethren. We were often ruthless in our behavior toward our facilitators and one another, but shared a love and respect that was (and remains) special. Good times, good people, who will always remain close to my heart.

Knowing that, I was very deliberate in my allocation of time. While we did cover sacraments, weddings, funerals, worship styles, and related matters, I was intentional about scheduling time for the group to explore the mansion together, go bowling together, and go out "after hours" to watch Monday Night Football together (they ended up with a great story, too, as they invaded the home of David Lake, pastor of Kane: 1st UMC). It warmed my heart that when we concluded our retreat, several group members remained to walk the prayer labyrinth together. I made no secret of the fact that if they emerged from their probationary years with these relationships and close connections, that would be by far the most important aspect of their probation. I pray those blessings upon them.

At any rate, it was good to get away and get to know these wonderful colleagues, but it was even better to come home to my four lovely children and my astonishingly beautiful wife. And a good sleep in my own bed is quite welcome tonight.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Deserved Hyperbole

Wow. Last night, the Steelers played on Monday Night Football and destroyed the Ravens. Hallelujah!

To say that the Steelers were dominant doesn't tell the tale. They embarrassed the Ravens, and did it in spectacular fashion. Ben Roethlisberger was nothing short of magnificent, throwing for 5 touchdowns and finishing the night with a 158.3 passer rating. He proved that, while Brady and Manning are clearly the best two QBs in the NFL right now, Roethlisberger is third (with the legendary Brett Favre not far behind).

On the defensive side of the football, linebacker James Harrison had a tremendous night. 9 tackles...3.5 sacks...3 forced fumbles...a fumble recovery and an interception...Harrison did it all. No defensive player in the NFL had a performance this weekend that was as dominant; Harrison owned the Ravens, as well as Week 9 of the 2007 NFL season.

What made the night so special, though, wasn't just the great victory. The night was special because of the presence of so many Steelers legends who came back for the game to help celebrate the team's 75th anniversary. These men were gods in western Pennsylvania while I was growing up; before children could name the four Gospels, they knew Rocky Bleier, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, L. C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Chuck Noll, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, and Mike Webster. These men were part of the greatest single team in football history, and remain the greatest of all NFL dynasties (as noted by Redskins fan Tony Kornheiser). To see Big Ben, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, and the rest of the current team put on that kind of show for those beloved legends was wonderful.

One more thing was confirmed last night. The Patriots and the Colts are the best two teams in the NFL (in that order, with apologies to Indiana John), but the Steelers are third, hanging right there with them (I suppose the Cowboys, the Packers, maybe the Giants, and, oddly enough, the Lions bring up the rear). If they play their best, and have some luck thrown their way, it's possible that Mike Tomlin's Steelers could be playing in the Super Bowl in a few months. Let the praying commence.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Prayer on All Saints Day

Almighty Heavenly Father,
your saints are one with you
in the mystical body of Christ:
give us grace to follow
the Church Expectant
in all virtue and holiness
until we come to those
inexpressible joys
which you have prepared
for those who
truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.